Private, Historic Home in Germantown to Host MALT's March Fundraiser
Oaks Cloister was designed by the same man who designed the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg and features a variety of architectural delights.
Oaks Cloister is not your ordinary private home.
Built in 1900 by Joseph Miller Huston—the same architect who designed Pennsylvania's State Capitol building—the Germantown gem features original leaded, stained glass windows, Mercer tiles, a plaster and gold leaf ceiling, numerous European fireplaces, a panel carved by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder, a mini-grotto (with a Carrara marble statue sculpted by George Grey Barnard) and a large enclosed cloister, among other historic elements.
This private home near Rittenhousetown, which now belongs to the Harris-Casavecchia family, will host Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT)'s March 19 fundraiser.
The event will feature both a silent and a live auction, and hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served by butlers. A VIP tour of the mansion, including a champagne reception, begins at 6 p.m.
Russell Harris said he and retired educator John Casavecchia purchased Oaks Cloister in 2002 after learning it was abandoned and at risk for being torn down. Having spent "a ton of time" as a boy in the state Capitol in Harrisburg, where his father had been Pennsylvania's secretary of agriculture, Harris was familiar with architectural elements and materials there. Harris had already restored two homes in the Art Museum area and eagerly took on this effort to save history.
"What struck us was the quality of the original construction. The bones are so good," said Harris, who is an emergency room physician at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J. and is a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.
Harris cited the oak floor, carvings and fireplaces as prime examples of its quality.
"The architect paid such close attention to detail," he said.
Oaks Cloister is registered with the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. Harris said he and Casavecchia expect to eventually apply for listing with the National Register of Historic Places, but said they first want to complete the restoration of the carriage house.
Harris said he's been pleasantly surprised at how artifacts originally from the house "keep coming back" there, in a sense.
For example, a grandfather's clock that originally belonged to the house was discovered by a family in Gettysburg, who returned it to Oaks Cloister. Several chests have been discovered, and an original fender that belonged to the ballroom fireplace returned from upstate New York.
Over the years, according to Harris, some 15 to 20 pieces have returned to their original home.
"Love for the house is heartwarming," he said.
The MALT fundraiser is not the first fundraiser Oaks Cloister will host, and it won't be the last. Although its owners won't rent the mansion for weddings or birthdays, they are willing to occasionally share it with schools and other community organizations that share its historical perspective.
The proceeds of the March 19 fundraiser will help pay off the mortgage on the purchase of Mt. Airy Learning Tree's own building at Greene and Hortter Streets. It is part of MALT's larger campaign to do so.
After about 15 months, MALT has raised $140,000 toward the total Valley Green Bank-owned mortgage of $230,000, according to Education Director Nicki Toizer. There will be some additional expenses as MALT upgrades and greens its headquarters, Toizer said.
Goodies are already being donated for the auction. Among those confirmed by Toizer are a Vespa Scooter, a week's vacation at a Corn Hill Cape Cod home, an electric bike, a weeklong hideaway in Vermont, a sailing trip on the Chesapeake and attractive sports and concert tickets.
Tickets—which cost $60 for the auction alone and $100 for the VIP tour and auction—are limited, according to Toizer, who suggests registering as soon as possible through the MALT office.